28 September, 2012

Lentil Pancakes with Coriander Yogurt Dip

It's end of September and the Dubai running season has officially started. A few weeks ago, I signed up for all the races that I want to participate in. It adds up to this: from October until April I'll be doing four 10k races, four Half Marathons and a Full Marathon. I am still considering another 10k race and a 10 mile race. The season opener was a 5k race last week.

In previous years I have been cutting down my running during the summer to almost nothing, due to the heat and lack of motivation as there was no immediate races to train for.  This summer was different. I did a fitness analysis back in July, and asked them what I must do to become faster over any distance from 10k to 42k . They told me to run long and slow for 10-12 weeks and then come back to see how much it has helped (read more about this here). Next week I am going back for a follow-up analysis.

It's been 10 weeks since the last check, and I am definitely feeling fit. I can run for 90 minutes at any day, no problem. The 5k race last week seemed to show first signs of success of my slow training over the last 2 months. 5k are usually not my favorite distance. I prefer longer runs where I can run a little slower. On a 5k race, there is no time to lose. It's a flat all-out race from start to finish. But I managed: I felt good and strong and kept a steady pace for about 4,5k. Only the last 500m (which didn't even have a hill - if anything it went downhill) were a bit of a struggle. I ran a Personal Best, and that was in extreme heat and humidity and a hilly course.

With all the running all the time, I find myself very, very hungry at times. There is days where I constantly raid the fridge for something to eat. It feels like a deficit of energy is adding up over a few days, and then it hits me one day. Hence, I spend the whole day in search of the next thing I can eat.
If I have my breakfast around 8am, I'll be ready for lunch at 11am. That often even includes a little snack in between.

On those days, a simple veggie salad is usually not enough. I need something more substantial, if I don't want to spend the whole day by the fridge. How happy was I when my friend Rajani from Eat Write Think posted a Lentil Pancake recipe a few days ago. Lentil and beans, as opposed to grains,  are my first choice when I need something to fill me up. And savory? Even better, so I can have them for lunch or dinner (although Rajani eats this for breakfast). I love the flavor and texture of these pancakes: spiced with cumin and chili they get a full round flavor (something I, as a German, wouldn't want for breakfast yet :-). The texture is that of a typical pancake - easy to flip in the pan and spongy enough to roll them up. The dip is refreshing and I love to have a big slab of yogurt dip onto the hot pancakes straight from the pan. An absolutely satisfying meal: it keeps you full for longer, is nutritious and tastes just amazing.These pancakes fit the bill in many perspectives. Enjoy!
adapted from Eat Write Think

(Print Recipe)

Lentil Pancakes
1/4 yellow moong dal
1/4 cup split green moong dal

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water

olive oil

Coriander Yogurt Dip
1 carrot, coarsely grated
1 cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup Greek or strained yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch of chili flakes
salt to taste

Serves 1-2
Lentil Pancakes
Soak the dal for at least 2 hours (or overnight in the fridge). Drain excess water, and transfer dal to food processor. Blend to a smooth and thick paste with about 1/2 cup of water. Add cumin, chili flakes and salt and pulse a few times to mix. The batter should be thick and spreadable but not runny.

Heat pan over medium heat, and coat the bottom with a little olive oil. Spread a heaped tablespoon of batter into the hot pan. Make sure the spread is not too thin. Cook over medium low heat for 1-2 minutes. When the bottom separates easily from the pan, flip pancake over and cook the other side until slightly browned. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter until all is used up.

Coriander Yogurt Dip
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and let stand in the fridge for an hour or so for the flavors to blend.

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22 September, 2012

Raw Raspberry Sorbet

When you travel with small kids, you will most probably have a lot of luggage. Whenever we leave Dubai for our annual leave in summer, I am glad to travel with Emirates Airlines, as they allow 30kgs luggage per person. We often needed that.

As the kids get older, the luggage gets less/lighter. You don't need a big toy bag anymore (only a small one), or 7 sets of clothes to change which can easily be soiled by a baby or toddler in 24 hours.
Now that my kids are 4 and almost 7 years old, we have more space for newly-bought things to bring back to Dubai: things that are cheaper in Europe, or are simply not available in Dubai. Or sometimes, because it's more fun buying things when you are on holiday.

From my previous post you may know that we also had several kilos of dried salted codfish and German smoked ham in our luggage. This year's purchases also included: coconut flour, new trainers (Saucony Kinvara), German books, vanilla extract, and an ice cream maker!!

My family loves ice cream and especially sorbet. The summer temperatures in Dubai justify any amount of ice cream eaten on any day.We have been looking around for ice cream makers in Dubai. Given the hot temperatures and long summer in Dubai, common sense would make you think that they would be a huge variety to chose from. In real life, it's the opposite. After checking several shops, I found exactly one (!) ice cream maker. And guess what: it was the most expensive one that you can get.

While on holidays in Germany, I did some ice cream maker research, and finally ordered one on Amazon. The rather bulky box had to be squeezed into our luggage, but I managed. And never regretted.
For the past two weeks I've been making sorbets and frozen yogurts almost on a daily basis. Always small-ish amounts, as I have a hundred flavor ideas in my head that need to be tried and tested.
One of the first sorbet flavors that had to be tried had to be raspberry, as this was the store-bought one that my husband loved the most. I wanted to come up with something identical in flavor but without all the additives.

With raspberries, it was one of the easiest tasks. I have made several batches with frozen raspberries. All it needs is a sweetener: now it is up to you to choose between honey, maple or agave syrup. It is as simple as that: puree the raspberries, sweeten to taste and put into ice cream maker. Done!

You'll get the most refreshing dessert, made of raw fruit with all its vitamins and minerals. I think only eating fresh raspberries straight from the bush is healthier than this. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 1/2 cups (12oz) raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons honey or agave syrup

yields 4-6 scoops

Combine raspberries and honey/agave in a food processor and blend on high speed until smooth.
If you use frozen raspberries, you may get sorbet immediately. Serve immediately or transfer to container and keep in the freezer.
If using fresh or thawed raspberries, pour mixture into ice cream maker, and follow ice cream maker's instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to container and keep in freezer.
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19 September, 2012

Race Report: Iftar Challenge 2012

The Iftar Challenge is the usual curtain opener for the Dubai running season. It's a 5k race on a hilly course.

5k are not my favorite distance. The distance is too short for me to get going. I am not a fast runner per se. I am more like a diesel engine. My strength lies in slow to medium paces over longer distances.

Nevertheless I love to participate, as I feel the itch of measuring myself against competitors after a long summer break. In addition, I also wanted to see what my comprehensive and specific summer training has done to my form and speed.

In all those 8 years of running in Dubai, during the summer months, my weekly mileage would always go down to almost nothing. I t was too hot, and while being on our monthly summer holidays, the running never really fitted in.

This year was different. I did a fitness analysis in the beginning of July, which would come with recommendations of how to change my training in order to run faster and longer (I am planning to write a more comprehensive report about this test). In short, the recommendations included to run long and slow, at least three times per week. Long meant at least 75 to 90min, slow meant below 70% of my max. heart rate. It sounds strange but it does work: train slow, race fast.

The slow running suited me over the hot summer months. I had to run at paces of  around 7min/k to stay below 70% of the max HR because my heart rate was also increase by the high temperatures. I really enjoyed the slow running in more than one way: I could hardly feel my legs (as it was very low intensity), I felt as if I was only moving my feet. Because the runs were not as tiring, I could run more often without exhausting myself or running the risk of over-training.

After 10 weeks of this kind of long slow running I felt incredibly fast and fit. The 5k race would put things to the test and I was looking forward to it.  I usually do some calculations before a race, as to what pace I know I am able to run and what pace I need to run to achieve my goal time. I wanted to run under 22 minutes and get as close to 21minutes as possible.

Before the race I was helping giving out the race numbers. I got lots of concerned questions: "Are you not running today?" Oh yes, I will.

About 300 people lined up at the starting line. I was near the front. I told myself repeatedly not to be carried away by the very fast runners. To give you an idea: we have a few Kenyans and Ethiopian runners in Dubai. Not that I would in any way be able to keep up with them for 100m, but I would try and keep up with the people who try and keep up with the Africans.

A few 100m down the course I checked my Garmin and saw that my pace was under 4min/k. Waaaayyyyyyyyyyy too fast. I needed to slow down immediately or I would blow up halfway through the race, especially with the little hills that were still to come. I settled into a 4:15-4:20 pace and was hoping for the best. The course was a two-lap course. I felt good and still fresh after the first lap.
The second lap would be the proof in the pudding. The hills were definitely more of a struggle the second way round, but I was mentally prepared to tackle them. I was only thinking of the hills. Save your energy, run them steadily. Don't go all crazy on the downhill part! - Those were my mantras. What I didn't think of was the half kilometer after the last hill. Once I managed myself up the last hill, there was still 500m or so to go. I was finished. I could have dropped on the tarmac right there, but yet another bit to go.
I saw a few familiar runners in front of me and I would have loved to overtake them on the home stretch. I only managed to not being overtaken by someone else. I finished in 21:30, one minute faster than the same race in 2011. I was happy with my time. I think that is a great improvement over 5k. I credit my summer training for that. A good start to the running season for sure!
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14 September, 2012

Arroz de Bacalhau

Did you ever lose luggage while traveling by aeroplane? Did you ever have to go to the lost luggage depot of an airport? We get visitors very regularly here in Dubai. Once or twice it happened that their luggage was not on their plane. A day later it usually arrives and can be picked up in the Lost Luggage Depot. In the depot, suitcases are kept on huge shelves, put into order of airlines on which the lost bag was found or not picked up. The depot is so big  that little tractors and forklifts have enough space to drive through. Upon arrival one is asked to follow the supervisor to the shelves of your particular airline. Then you have to give a description of your lost luggage and labels will be checked against. The procedure can take a while. But what's worse is the smell in this depot. It comes from the lost luggage.

Have you ever wondered what people have in their suitcases when traveling? I do, every time I enter an airport. Especially here in Dubai where people come from all over the world.
At Dubai International Airport you get to see any kind of luggage: regular suitcases and travel bags in all sizes, but also over-sized card board boxes, taped all the way round. Heavy-duty plastic bags, probably several layers, also taped together, with addresses written on them in huge letters with permanent markers, in the hope that piece of luggage will survive the journey.

Many people in Dubai are expatriates that go home to their native countries only once or twice per year. I can tell you from recent conversations I had that people travel with a lot of food (from their home countries, and obviously not available in Dubai) in their suitcases. Here are some examples:

Woman from Britain brings 6 month supply of British chocolate upon return to Dubai.
French woman brings French ham and cheeses (both quite critical when in lost luggage).
Indian woman took frozen fish fingers, sliced cheese and fresh cherries back to India and returned with I dunno what fresh foods (all needed to be put straight in the freezer, that I know).

And then there is us. From our holidays in Portugal we brought about 3kgs of salted air-dried codfish, an essential Portuguese ingredient in many of their specialties - also known as bacalhau) via Germany back to Dubai. While there is little chance that something dried goes off quickly, it still has distinct smell to it. Which can be kept under control when wrapped very tightly in many layers of plastic bags. But if a suitcase with 3kgs of dried fish gets lost and is never picked up for whatever reasons, as obviously happens to many of the suitcases in the Dubai Airport Lost Luggage Depot.

I fell in love with bacalhau in Portugal. In fact, I fell in love with Portuguese food. So simple, straightforward, non-fussy, with just a handful of ingredients. Proper honest home fare, with lots of seafood. One of the first dishes that I tried to recreate was Arroz de Bacalhau. I refuse to translate this into English. It sounds much better in Portuguese (says me who doesn't speak more than a handful of Portuguese words). It's not a risotto, it's more simple rice with stirred-in codfish. I bet the word-for word translation of Arroz de Bacalhau is Rice with Codfish.

The dominant flavors and textures are salty codfish and in white wine cooked chewy brown rice with a little tomato. Add some black olives and you'll have the most satisfying dish that you can make from pantry staples. Enjoy.

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups bacalhau (dried salted cod fish)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, chopped

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 cup brown rice, uncooked

1 cup water
1 cup white wine

10-15 black olives

chopped parsley

Serves 4

In a bowl, cover the bacalhau with water. Rehydrate for at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse the fish, then peel off the skin and remove bones. Flake into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

In a pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped tomatoes and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper and fry for another minute. Stir in brown rice, then add water and white wine. Cover with lid and cook over low heat, until rice is cooked and most liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat the other one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until they become translucent. Add the bacalhau flakes and fry until cooked, about 4-5 minutes. Take off the heat and set aside.

When the rice is done, stir in the bacalhau. Transfer to serving dish. Garnish with black olives and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
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08 September, 2012

Lemon Coconut Loaf

School is starting again tomorrow for my son. It's been lovely summer holidays that we spent in the Dubai heat, in Germany and in Portugal. It's been long too, about 10 weeks. But by no way boring.

My kids come to an age where they play more and more sophisticated games. It lies in the genes of my family  that we love to play card and board games. I can confirm that for at least 5 generations - my great-grandmother used to love playing and my children seem to be have the same bug. So even the month that we spent in the Dubai summer heat, didn't feel long at all as we were always busy.

Tomorrow morning at 6.30am the alarm clock will ring, and I will have to prepare breakfast for a sleepy family and lunch boxes to be taken to school.

I have to come up with a few new lunch box ideas, as I was informed by the teacher that at mid-morning break, kids are only allowed a piece of fruit or a cereal bar. I must admit, I find that a tad too little. 6 and 7 year old kids having just that between breakfast at 6.30am and lunch after 12pm?

As school lunchboxes have to be nut free, I have been de-nutting all my granola bars. This works pretty well if you replace the nuts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Here is a list of granola bar recipes that can be easily adapted for school lunch boxes. Most of them are sweetened with dried fruit only, ideal for a healthy snack:

- Breakfast Oatmeal Bars
- Banana Molasses Granola Bars
- Quinoa Granola Bars
- Banana Pecan Granola Bars
- No Bake Granola Bars
- Cocoa Orange Granola Bars

When it comes to gluten/grain free flours, I am left with coconut flour and chickpea flour as almond meal is out of the picture.

This Lemon Coconut Loaf has become a staple over the summer. It's light and fresh, sweetened with banana and honey. The batter is good enough to make either muffins or a loaf out of it. A good solution for the lunch box that the kids will enjoy. I am sure the rest will fall into place as soon as school starts.

1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs
2 tablespoons coconut oil
4 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup mashed banana (1 ripe small banana)
1/2 lemon, zest of 
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 tablespoons pistachios, finely chopped 
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Yields 1 small loaf or 6 muffins
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Grease or line small loaf pan. Alternatively grease or line six muffin molds.

In a bowl, sift together coconut and flour and baking soda. Set aside.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in coconut oil, honey and mashed banana until well combined. Add lemon zest and lemon juice.

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Make sure the batter is lump free. Spoon batter into loaf pan or muffins molds. Sprinkle with some chopped pistachios and coconut. Bake for about 25 minutes (muffins) to 35 minutes (loaf), or until tester comes out clean.
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02 September, 2012

Savory Smoothie

We are finally back home in Dubai after a month of holidays and travelling.
It feels good to be home, although I am still in the process of settling in: unpacking suitcases, filling up fridge and pantry, dusting off the house, adjusting to a different time zone and getting used to the heat. And even worse, the humidity.

By end of August, the temperatures in Dubai are slowly coming down which only means they don't go over 40C all that often during the day. But end of August and September are known for high humidity. If I had the choice, I'd always prefer 45C and low humidity to 35C and high humidity.

High humidity in Dubai makes you sweat in places, you didn't know could sweat. Like your knee caps or shins. Just standing outside makes you dripping wet from sweat within minutes. So imagine working or exercising outside..... Today I was chatting to the neighbor with the front door wide open. A few minutes of the humid air coming in were enough to make the mirror in the hallway fog up, the staircase wet. That's how bad it is.

Weather like this just screams for cold drinks. When you get tired of water, and you might even be a little hungry but don't feel like eating a heavy meal, this savory smoothie is just what you may wish for. My friend Rajani from Eat Write Think posted this recipe some time ago, and I was immediately intrigued. I must add, that I have never been into smoothies. I don't know why. Somehow, I missed the train, I guess. But a SAVORY smoothie? That got my attention. Look at the ingredients list, and you'll find Who is Who of healthy and anti-inflammatory foods.

Packed with vitamins and minerals from the bell pepper and cucumber and, fresh and raw, and spiced with ginger and cumin, it the most satisfying drink I had in a long time. Because it is savory, it is very light on the stomach, yet satisfying and filling enough to count as a snack. It reminded me of a spiced up version of Gazpacho. Once again, I find that this recipe is confirmation for the fact, that foods without sugar, natural or not, are better for your well-being. Give it a go.
adapted from Eat Write Think

1/3 cup yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup cucumber, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon flax meal
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt to taste
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water
Serves 1
Combine all ingredients except water in a high speed food processor. Pulse until smooth. Thin with water until you reach desired consistency. If you have time, keep the smoothie in the fridge for 30 minutes so the flavors to blend.

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